Focused On Advocacy, Honesty And Commitment To Our Clients

Why would an eyewitness get the details wrong?

On Behalf of | May 29, 2024 | Criminal Defense

You’re facing charges after an arrest, and an eyewitness says that you were the one who committed the crime. Maybe you’re already on trial and the eyewitness has been called to the stand to testify. Or perhaps they are simply being interviewed by police at the scene, and they are already claiming that you were responsible.

This is curious to you, as you know that you did not commit the crime in question. The eyewitness is simply getting it wrong. Maybe they’re identifying the wrong individual or misinterpreting other details. Are they lying? If not, why are they getting the details so wrong?

Their memory may have changed

It’s unlikely that they are lying, although it does happen. An eyewitness could be biased or prejudiced, for example. But lying is relatively rare because there’s nothing for the eyewitness to gain in that scenario.

Instead, what has probably happened is that their memory has changed. The best way to think of a person‘s memory is like the telephone game, where people sit in a line and whisper a message from one person to the next. It changes a little bit each time, and the final message is much different than the initial message.

Memories of the same way, in that they can constantly be updated or changed every time they are recalled. If the eyewitness talks to police officers about what happened, they could be inadvertently altering their own memory. If they read news reports or watch the news on television, details from that report could make it into their “memory” of the event.

This helps to show why eyewitnesses are sometimes unreliable and why it is so important for those facing criminal charges to understand their defense options.